By Manny Pelaez-Prada
City South Management Authority (CSMA), Mayor Ed Garza’s brainchild, has failed and is a worthy candidate for dignified euthanasia. It was created with the best of intentions and, at the time, it seemed like a good idea. Let the numbers illuminate the curious.
- Zero: The number of new neighborhoods that have been developed within the CSMA’s boundaries since it was created.
- Zero: The number of new jobs that can be attributed to the CSMA’s work.
- Zero: The number of the thousands of families that have moved to San Antonio over the past twelve months that have bought or built homes on property over which the CSMA has jurisdiction
- Zero: The number of new alleyways and porches that one can find within the 63 square mile CSMA zone.
- Zero: The number of elected officials that have vocally defended the CSMA’s existence.
- Zero: The times that the Chambers of Commerce have lauded the CSMA’s accomplishments.
- 170,000: Total 2011 tax dollars spent by CSMA on salaries, office supplies, and other operating costs.
- Three: The number of times CSMA’s Annual Report features photos of a failed retail strip-center across from Toyota’s plant. The strip center was built by convicted felon Dan Bailey, who arrived in San Antonio from California with ridiculously outsized development promises and left as fast as he came, his many ambitions unrealized. Using the photos as examples of good works is ironic at best, intellectually dishonest at worst.
Contrary to its stated goal of fomenting development, CSMA has proven to be the primary obstacle to Southside development. Poorly planned and executed, CSMA has drawn the ire of local and state politicians that have grown impatient with its negative impact on the Southside’s economic revitalization. It’s time for City Council, the Bexar County Commissioners, and the Texas Legislature to put an end to CSMA.
Created by city council fiat in 2005, the CSMA’s stated mission was to provide a regional vision for sustainable growth within a 63-square mile area in the southern part of San Antonio and Bexar County. The CSMA was created to develop planned communities that incorporate “lifecycle housing, walkable streets and trails with bicycling, integrated retail and office uses, low-impact storm water practices, and other cutting edge features.”
CSMA boasts that it encourages the stewardship of undisturbed natural areas, historic sites and agricultural lands, and that it promotes efforts to extend green infrastructure throughout its region as an amenity for its residents. It also claims, despite much proof to the contrary, that it has supported the development of sustainable communities, conservation subdivisions, and business development.
Among its many audacious claims, CSMA holds itself out as one of the primary elements in Toyota’s and Texas A&M’s decisions to locate their campuses on San Antonio’s south side. To understand why I accuse the CSMA of audacity, you need to know that in 2003 I was Toyota’s in-house attorney. During my tenure as Toyota counsel, I had the pleasure of meeting the Verano developers,the group developing the property around the A&M campus) and was privy to the nascent stages of their important project.
As one of the very few people who had a front-row-seat to how and when those decisions were made, I can confidently say that CSMA was never a factor in Toyota’s nor A&M’s site selection. To Toyota, it was frosting on the cake, as the CSMA would all but guarantee that development would NOT crop up around its manufacturing plant. To Verano Land Group, the Texas A&M project developers, the CSMA was something that they would have to work with or around, but definitely not Verano’s reason for choosing to invest in the Southside.
Despite CSMA’s existence, not because of it, Toyota has been a much-lauded success. And despite CSMA’s hapless attempts to be relevant, the Texas A&M system continues to invest in its campus. And all the while, CSMA cynically takes credit for these developments. But not all have been taken in by CMSA’s claims to relevance.
For example, four weeks ago, CSMA invited the public to a meeting “to provide input and feedback on the type of development that has impacted the [CSMA] area,” and, “to assess the [CSMA’s] role in supporting sustainable development.” CSMA’s consultant asked those in attendance if a better structure or organization existed for achieving the goals of the CSMA. What they got was a roomful of citizens grasping to understand CSMA’s continued need to even exist.
At the time of CSMA’s creation, Ed Garza and company said it would be the answer to a question that was not being asked. They did not ask whether market demand existed for the kind of new urbanist development code that is the foundation of CSMA’s vision. There was no analysis of whether home buyers would even be interested in the front porches and alleyway concept. Nobody questioned how the costs of these elements would be absorbed by builders or the end-user. They did not go through the exercise of asking themselves if CSMA was even a good idea.
From the outset it was taken as gospel that the Southside needed urban planners to finally do something about the lack of attractive development. The result of these building restrictions made homes inside the CSMA zone more expensive than those outside it, and imposed more bureaucracy on builders and consumers.
Porches and alleys are not free. Developers pass the cost of building them on to buyers. Those buyers may not be willing to absorb that cost when they can use that money to buy a bigger house outside the CSMA zone.
Also, who told them we wanted a porch or an alley? Has that worked anywhere in town? What data sparked demand for that in San Antonio? Certainly it was not the market studies that could have been, but were not, commissioned.
To be fair, there was no real opposition to CSMA’s creation at the time it was proposed. So, in large part, CSMA’s defenders can argue that they were taking a bold step by doing something nobody had ever done before.
I don’t condemn boldness. But CSMA’s boldness was wholly lacking in data-driven analysis. Boldness for boldness’ sake is worthy of condemnation, especially when other people’s property rights are at stake. And let there be no question that real people have been damaged by CSMA’s very existence. Those property owners whose land just sits there, barred from development outside the CSMA zone, are missing out on significant opportunities.
Take a close look at the CSMA annual report list of “developments in the CSMA area.” You will no doubt agree that projects on the list would have gone forward even if CSMA had not existed. The only reference to CSMA doing ANYTHING is in connection with the “Von Ormy project.” But even that is not worthy of bragging. “The [CSMA] was briefed….” That’s it? Nothing else? It was briefed? The CSMA board heard a presentation. Way to reach for the stars, guys.
CSMA is an example of city government taking it upon itself to create and impose a set of standards that the market has rejected. Instead of facilitating, it has extinguished interest in developing within CSMA boundaries. Not a single job has been created. It has not sparked development. It has not “integrated retail and offices uses, low-impact storm water practices, and other cutting edge features” into anything on the South Side. No transportation solutions, improved public health, or any of the big goals the CSMA boasts about on its website have transpired. The only sustainable thing that it has created is entropy….oh, and a one-year work plan consisting of platitudes about “encouraging” and “focusing” on this or that. That, and a cute brochure.
And here lies the question: What should a government agency that has no relevance or use do with itself? CSMA, like all other organizations exists to exist. (I know that this is kind of meta, but please bear with me) Those who have invested time and money to keep CSMA alive resist its demise and suggest ways to redirect, restructure, reprioritize the organization.
But bold leadership commands hard choices. Instead of asking, “What can we do to become relevant?”, the organization should ask, “Do we even need to exist?”
The intellectually honest answer is “no.” I urge the CSMA to ask city council and the county government to authorize dissolution of the CSMA.
Manuel “Manny” Pelaez-Prada is an attorney, mediator, and government relations advisor. He currently serves as the chairman of the Brooks Development Authority (aka Brooks City Base). He serves as an executive board member of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. (Full disclosure: Both Pelaez and Robert Rivard have provided consulting services to the Verano land Group.) You can connect with Pelaez on Twitter at @BexarBones.